I’m still in Washington state touring tree fruit marketers, but I notice the USDA released results of its Healthy Incentives Pilot program yesterday. Find the USDA summary here and The Packer’s coverage here.
Here are some highlights from the summary:
Under HIP, SNAP participants received an incentive of 30 cents for every SNAP dollar spent on targeted fruits and vegetables credited back to their SNAP Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card. The incentive could then be spent on any SNAP-eligible foods and beverages.
Targeted Fruits and Vegetables:
Primary impact: Interim results indicate that HIP participants (respondents aged 16 and older) consumed one-fifth of a cup equivalents more targeted fruits and vegetables per day than did non-participants. This represents a difference of 25 percent in consumption over control group members. The one-fifth cup brings consumption levels approximately 17 percent closer to the Healthy People 2020 objectives for total fruit and vegetable intake.
Fruits vs. Vegetables: Approximately 60 percent of the observed difference was due to a difference in consumption of vegetables and 40 percent due to a difference in consumption of fruit.
Incentive earnings: During the first half year of pilot operations, two-thirds of HIP households earned some incentive; the other one-third of households did not earn any incentives in a given month.
Perceived impacts on cost: The majority (70 percent) of HIP households felt that fruits and vegetables had become more affordable due to HIP.
Participant Understanding: Forty percent of HIP participants reported that they had not heard about the pilot when asked 4 to 6 months after implementation. Forty percent also reported that it was hard (or they didn’t know whether it was easy or hard) to understand how HIP works; a similar percentage said it was hard (or they didn’t know whether it was easy or hard) to remember which fruits and vegetables qualified for the incentive.
Participant Satisfaction: Ninety-five percent of respondents indicated that they would like to keep participating in HIP.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack appears friendly toward the idea of expanding the pilot, particularly with passage of a new farm bill.
From the USDA news release:
"Although healthy foods aren't necessarily more expensive, many low income people face time and resource challenges when it comes to putting healthy food on the table that can make less healthy options seem more appealing," said Vilsack. "The results of the Healthy Incentives Pilot demonstrate the clear impact that promoting nutritious food choices can have on improving the healthfulness of SNAP purchases."
Vilsack also highlighted ongoing public-private efforts that provide support and incentives to SNAP participants to purchase more healthy foods. He cited a pilot project in Minnesota that offers $5 coupons to SNAP households for the purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables and a pilot project in Michigan to make locally sourced produce available in corner grocery stores in metropolitan Detroit.
"Research to date shows that incentives can work, but we know that no single solution can solve the problems of poor diet and obesity among American children and families," said Vilsack. "That is why we are supporting a broad spectrum of SNAP-focused strategies that empower low-income families to purchase more healthy foods."
United Fresh Produce Association also looks to the program’s potential expansion. From a United Fresh news release:
United Fresh applauds Secretary Vilsack’s announcement today that USDA’s Healthy Incentives Pilot (HIP) project increased produce consumption among Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants. The pilot, conducted in Hampden, MA, demonstrated that providing financial incentives to SNAP recipients at the point of sale increases the consumption of fruits and vegetables. Under HIP, SNAP participants received an incentive of 30 cents for every SNAP dollar spent on targeted fruits and vegetables credited back to their SNAP Electronic Benefit Transfer card.
“We’re very encouraged by these results, especially in light of other successful fruit and vegetable incentive programs such as Double Up Bucks in Michigan, Wholesome Wave, and others,” said Dr. Lorelei DiSogra, United Fresh vice president of nutrition & health. “All of these programs are showing that incentives to low-income families work to promote fresh fruit and vegetable consumption.”
The HIP was authorized and funded by Congress in the 2008 Farm Bill. The Farm Bill passed by the Senate in June 2013 includes $100 million in federal matching funds to support fruit and vegetable incentives for SNAP recipients.
“We are hopeful that this funding will be included in the final version of the 2013 Farm Bill and support the expansion of these incentives to thousands of low-income families,” said DiSogra.
On a related note, New York City also introduced a fruit and vegetable “prescription” program yesterday.
In time, these incentive programs should be expanded to all SNAP participants. Given the option of either the carrot or the stick approach to increase consumption and improve public health, the carrot is to be preferred.